Ask any kid what’s bugging him or her, and you’re likely to hear the least true thing you’ll hear all day — “Nothing!” After Kingston Cares’ successful Midtown street cleanup program drew an otherwise unrelated group of more than 30 teens and pre-teens together, the kids cracked their feelings wide open about the City of Kingston and their homes, schools, friends and lives.
“What we noticed the most was how it really bothered the kids that they feel they are only seen for the bad things that go on in the community, but never recognized for any of the good they do,” said Kingston Cares program director Megan Weiss.
Kids were deeply torn between community altruism and resentment. “It was really nice to hear from people that we were making Kingston look better,” commented Josh. (Since the kids’ ages vary between nine and 19, their real names have been withheld, swapped out for names commonly heard around the Everette Hodge Community Center.) “I had a neighbor who told me I was doing a good job. She has yelled at me before for stuff I’ve done in the past, so I felt a lot better about seeing her now.” Other kids appreciated congregating in a larger group without being yelled at.
Peer group leaders from each squad posed questions to the kids ranging from their favorite hangout places, handling bullies, what in Kingston should be changed, what to do without money, issues that frustrate them and more, and reported back their groups’ responses to the whole.
“We spent most of the time talking about why the [cleanup] work we are doing this week matters,” explained reporting teen group leader, Mariah.
The cleanup crew raps about their experience:
“The Van Buren Street Park is a good place to be, but it was kind of wrecked before we got there. We made it look a lot better,” said Matteo. “If someplace looks better, we are less likely to make it look bad,” added Joe. “But if there is already litter, why would I worry about my bag of chips on the ground?”
The kids readily admitted that they would feel angry toward seeing a friend vandalize the properties that the Kingston Cares group had just cleaned, and shared that they would feel mad, insulted and disrespected.
Issues that Kingston kids cited that affect them ranged from predictable to surprising to altogether disturbing: litter, cursing, property damage, insults, bullying, harassment, lack of engaging activities, graffiti, secondhand smoke and guns.